Stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui had not made any jokes about Hindu deities, or even begun his performance when his arrested by the Madhya Pradesh Police on January 1, Article 14 reported on Thursday, quoting Indore Superintendent of Police Vijay Khatri. Faruqui had been arrested from a cafe in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore city on January 1 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, and has since been in custody.

The comedian was arrested only on the basis of claims made by a Hindutva vigilante group, the policeman told the website.

Khatri said that the arrest was made on basis of a complaint by Eklavya Singh Gaur, chief of Hindutva group Hind Rakshak Sangathan, who said he had overheard jokes during rehearsal. However, the police officer, said that the lack of video evidence or otherwise, was not a concern, reported Article 14.

“Doesn’t really matter,” Khatri told the website. “There was ruckus at the venue even before Faruqui could perform. But, we were told [by the complainants] that they [the comedians] were cracking jokes about Ram and Shiv ji [the Hindu deities] while rehearsing.”

On January 4, two days after the arrest too, the Indore Police had said that there was no visual evidence to show that Faruqui had insulted Hindu deities. Along with Faruqui, four others – Nalin Yadav, Prakhar Vyas, Edwin Anthony and Priyam Vyas – were also arrested on similar charges. A day later, Faruqui’s friend Sadaqat Khan was arrested for allegedly making abusive remarks about Gaur, according to The Indian Express.

Khatri added that apart from Gaur’s claim about the rehearsal jokes, an April 2020 video, in which Faruqui jokes about a popular Hindi song Mere Piya Ghar Aaya, Oh Ram Ji, also showed his “intent” to insult Hindu deities.

“Apart from the rehearsals, there were his old videos too,” said Khatri. “They were going to do it anyway. All of their jokes were about Hindu gods and goddesses. It isn’t as if they would have not cracked these jokes if there was no hungama [uproar].”

In the video Khatri referred to, Faruqui mocked the irony behind the lyrics, pointing to Ram’s 14-year-long exile, as has been described in mythological texts, reported Article 14. A complaint was filed against that video too and it has since been deleted.

Khatri in fact praised Gaur and his group for being “active and alert”, as they stopped the performance after a local comic Prakhar Vyas, in his opening act, made a joke about another Hindu deity Ganesh.

“When you four are going to do something together and the first act itself kicks up a controversy, why should the other three be allowed to continue?” Khatri told Article 14. He said it was wrong to ask for Faruqui’s release simply because he did not perform any of his jokes, pointing out the comedian’s intention to do so.

“This is what you came had planned to do this,” the police officer said.

He further said that the uproar around Faruqui’s arrest was only because he was a Muslim. “No one is speaking about the other three but since there is one Muslim, people are criticising these arrests,” Khatri told Article 14. “If he is released, and the other three are kept in prison, no one would have said anything.”

Meanwhile, despite the lack of concrete evidence, the bail pleas of Faruqui and others have been rejected twice, stating that their release will disrupt law and order. On January 13, Khan’s bail plea was also rejected citing similar grounds.

On January 1, Faruqui and the others were arrested and booked on the basis of a First Information Report registered on Gaur’s complaint. Police had then said that the comedian had allegedly mocked Hindu gods and goddesses. However, now it has emerged that there was no evidence for the claim and Faruqui might not have even performed at the programme.

A purported video of Faruqui being roughed up, allegedly by members of the Hind Rakshak Sangathan, was also widely circulated on social media.